Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Balakrishnan and Pritam: High Noon Showdown Anticlimax

As it turned out, it was not the expected high stakes gun battle and WP chief Low Thia Khiang dismissed it all as a misunderstanding. Whatever it was, there is still no smoke without fire and the hawkers were upset, this time not with the PAP but with WP.

The PAP saw their chance over WP's callous handling of the hawkers and seized it to corner WP. Sylvia Lim or Low Thia Khiang who have distinguished themselves as honourable and worthy opposition since GE 2006 were not WP's weak link, but the other WP member involved in the AHPETC saga - Pritam Singh, Vice Chair of AHPETC.

Shutting Up Rather than Speaking Up

Minister Balakrishnan had thrown the gauntlet on the floor last month that the new WP MP, Pritam Singh, lied that AHPETC did not ask the hawkers to pay more for the scaffolding during a cleaning of hawker centres blocks 511 and 538. Pritam Singh denied the serious charge of dishonesty then, although he failed to rebut the minister in parliament during the latest seating. The question of being sued by the PAP was not a Damocles Sword over Pritam 's head as MPs could speak candidly and bluntly in parliament because of their parliamentary privilege and immunity.

Hence, MP Pritam had a chance for a robust populist debate with Minister Balakrishnan but he surprisingly chose not to do so. Since Pritam is an articulate speaker, his decision to remain silent shouted volumes. The political retreat meant that Pritam wanted to cut his losses, perhaps strongly advised by the shrewd experienced WP general Low Thia Khiang that it was better to shut up then speak up and confirm dishonesty.

Pritam Strike Two

This is not the first time that Pritam showed signs of being less than honest. Previously, he plagiarised his 2012 parliamentary speech on ombudsman almost lock, stock and barrel from a blogger. The former ISEAS researcher and King's College MA graduate who should have known better made neither attribution nor reference that he used somebody's ideas and words until he was confronted by DPM Teo Chee Hean in parliament. MP Pritam tried to recover by then but it was too little too late and any decent university graduate would have been drilled that plagiarism was theft, a theft of ideas and intellect.

If a PAP MP had stolen ideas for his or her parliamentary speech, or had fudged about asking hawkers to pay up for cleaning the hawker centres, the public would be have chastised his or her dishonesty. The public should also exact similar standards of honesty on all MPs, PAP or WP. There is still some time till GE 2016 and all eyes are on Pritam if he would disappoint WP supporters the third time.

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